'Home Mechanix' gets turnaround handyman

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Times Mirror taps Rooney to guide relaunch of magazine under new title

Michael rooney is undertaking a $5 million remodeling job.

This week, the group publisher of Times Mirror Magazines' Field & Stream and Outdoor Life tacks on responsibility for Today's Homeowner.

The magazine, a relaunch of Home Mechanix, is in need of repair. Published 10 times a year with a rate base of 1 million, the 68-year-old publication has been flat in circulation and advertising for most of the 1990s. Still, Mr. Rooney sees great potential.

SEEING A `HUGE MARKET'

"There is a huge market," he said, "between the do-it-yourself books, which are almost entirely male-oriented, and the shelter books, which are almost entirely female-oriented."

The name change comes in September, the same month Hearst Magazines launches a test of Bob Vila's American Home.

Mr. Rooney hopes to boost newsstand sales and bring in more women and younger readers through a sweeping redesign from leading designers Milton Glaser and Walter Bernard.

"We think there is an opportunity to grow in circulation and ad revenue," he said.

Last year, during a relatively strong year for consumer magazines, ad pages for Home Mechanix grew just 3.2% to 529.5.

In the past, single-copy sales were almost non-existent--16,740 for the six-month period ended Dec. 31, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Total circulation for the period was virtually flat at 1.01 million, up 1.5% from the same period a year earlier.

Times Mirror is close to finalizing an agreement to distribute 1 million of the redesigned magazines at displays in a major home center retail chain.

Early advertiser reaction to the redesign is positive.

"I think it's brilliant," said Thomas Eppes, president of Price/McNabb, Charlotte, N.C. "I think the old name gave readers a greasy-hand kind of feel. Today, there are a lot more women involved in home improvement decisions."

Andy Ginger, Craftsman brand manager for Sears, Roebuck & Co., agreed: "I think they're targeting the right people--the serious do-it-yourselfer and the homeowner in general."

To support the September relaunch, Times Mirror will run page ads, created in-house, in USA Today in November.

TURNAROUND SPECIALIST

Mr. Rooney, 43, a noted turnaround specialist, took Rodale Press' Men's Health from a niche title to a hugely successful mainstream magazine and brought Discover back to life after Walt Disney Co. acquired it in 1991.

But this turnaround may prove more difficult. Times Mirror's corporate edict has been for 12% profit, and traditionally the magazine unit has been underperforming on that front. Former Times Mirror executives say Home Mechanix was marginally profitable under former Publisher John Crawley, who resigned last year. John Young is the current publisher.

Jason Klein, a senior VP of the magazine unit, insisted the parent company is investing in Home Mechanix for future growth and has no intention of selling it or any other titles.

Copyright July 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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